Volume 10 No 2 Spring 2014


January 23, 2014

ESL Teacher Electracy: A Shift from Flat to Digital Teaching and Learning

by Beth Crumpler

Teaching and learning have changed in the 21st century. With new technology adoptions and their ever-growing and ever-changing landscape, ESL teachers need to be prepared for these teaching and learning environments. Teachers need to transition from flat environments to digital teaching and learning, which provide a necessary skill set development by ESL teachers in electracy.

"Electracy" is computer literacy. In a study titled Computer literacy levels of teachers, Necdet Konan says, "Electracy describes the kind of 'literacy' or skill and facility necessary to exploit the full communicative potential of new electronic media such as multimedia, hypermedia, social software and virtual worlds."

In another study titled The Electracy Model of Teaching and Learning, Jace Hargis and Gordon Rakita states, "Electracy is in many ways a fusion of the oral and literate modes of teaching and learning."

Electracy provides an inquiry environment for teaching and learning. It also provides a format for students to engage in multimodal learning, hands-on learning, investigation and self-reflection. Electracy provides a means for students to become multimodal active learners rather than flat passive learners.

A paradigm shift from the 3 R's to the 4 C's

Modern classrooms have moved from the traditional brick walls to connectedness in digital learning, or electracy. Digital learning provides multimodal learning opportunities, compared to the flat, traditional way of learning encouraging the 3 R's — reading, writing and arithmetic. But the 3 R’s are not the only essential skills now needed.

Students now also need the 4 C's. These 21st century essential skills of learning and innovation include the following skills sets: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

Critical thinking includes skills used in electracy such as: synthesizing, analyzing, interpreting and reflecting. Communication also involves electracy skills as well as ESL skills such as linguistic and cultural competence. The inclusion of these learning and innovation skills for students demonstrates the critical need for ESL teachers to become versed in digital literacy, electracy.

Electracy development and technology standards

ESL teachers must keep up to pace with these essential skills and technology integrations in teaching and learning. Those who do not have electracy abilities will lag behind those who do.

ESL teachers need to have the skills necessary to teach and provide multimodal learning experiences for students. Flat teaching alone cannot support ESL students' learning needs, which are interactive, collaborative, engaging, creative and fluid learning experiences. Teaching through digital technology or through the hybridization of the flat and multimodal teaching technologies provides ESL students with their needed 21st century learning environments.

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. developed a TESOL Technology Standards Framework with technology standards for teachers and students. All ESL teachers should be trained and proficient in at least the basic technological standards in this framework.

It is understood that sometimes there is not equal access to technology in ESL student home environments and in school environments. These standards provide examples for student and teacher digital literacy development even in learning environments that have minimal access to technology.

School districts and institutions should ensure that they provide adequate training experiences for ESL teachers. The TESOL Technology Standards Framework addresses the need for effective teacher training and professional development with the pedagogical uses for technology. Trainings can utilize the TESOL Technology Standards and/or the ISTE Standards as guides for effective offerings.

In the study titled Web-text: Perceptions of digital reading skills in the ESL classroom, Wendy Sutherland-Smith states, "The Web requires rethinking our approach to literacy practice and offers us, as teachers, an opportunity to be active in evolving notions of literacy embracing new technologies." This means ESL teachers need to learn the technologies and how to effectively use them for engaging students in literacy development of multimodal learning.

Why do ESL teachers need electracy skills?

First, teachers need electracy skills because learning through digital technology engages students in active discussions, collaboration, presentation and learning. New formats of electracy are providing more opportunities for students to engage in synchronous learning (collaborative, communicative and in real-time). This is the mobile learning and connectedness of fluid on-going learning and classrooms.

Second, the Common Core State Standards has recently been adopted in 45 of the 50 states in the United States. A requirement under these standards for all students, including ESL, is that they must have proficiency in digital literacy (electracy). Not only that, but all students will receive testing using digital assessments.

PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessments are implementing these digital assessments by 2015. For these reasons it is imperative that ESL teachers have electracy.

The digital literacy skills students should know for these assessments are:
•fundamental computer skills (e.g., computer vocabulary, Web browsing and hardware/software)
•keyboarding and word processing (e.g, formatting, editing and revising)
•creating and analyzing charts and graphs (e.g., create and format spreadsheets and graphs)
•communicating and presenting information using digital tools (e.g., presentations, effects and hyperlinks)
•conducting online research and evaluation (e.g., search key words and evaluate the validity of information)

These skills represented in Common Core show the current paradigm shift from flat teaching and learning to multimodal teaching and learning.

Common Core has posed a problem for many school districts and educators. They are not ready to implement Common Core because of existing infrastructure problems, older existing curriculum and standards and the like. Added to this is the increasing demand of teacher requirements with little time to learn and plan to teach using technology.

For this reason, electracy skills development should be woven into professional development options and curriculum adoptions. Teachers should learn how to get students to use metacognition skills, to think about thinking, to analyze, ask questions and draw meaning on technology and communication.

Third, although students may not have access to computers at home and restricted access at school, teachers should use available technologies for teaching and learning in whatever avenues the technologies can be used for.

Troy Hicks and Kristen Hawley Turner paint a portrait of this in No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can't Wait. They highlight ways teachers should integrate technology and ways that the ill usage of technology can actually disengage students. Teachers need to learn how to implement technology effectively for effective student engagement. ESL teachers cannot expect these skills from students if teachers themselves do not have the skills.

ESL teacher electracy training ideas

Learning for Life: ESL Literacy Curriculum Framework by Bow Valley College lists recommendations for teaching ESL students computer literacy skills. The framework suggests ways to build ESL student computer literacy. Although this framework is directed toward ESL students, the same computer literacy framework should apply to teachers. All teachers should be trained in computer/technology literacy and how to use such technologies to modify and adapt curriculum for ESL student learning.

The computer literacy questionnaire at the bottom of the article Computer Literacy and Competency: A Survey of Indonesian of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, by Jeong-Bae Son, has excellent ideas for surveying teachers about their computer knowledge and skills. This article and questionnaire is directed toward Indonesian teachers; however the questionnaire can be applicable to all ESL teachers everywhere.

Electracy development is in a sense language literacy development. ESL teachers are trained and proficient in teaching non-native English speakers how to speak an additional language. ESL teacher electracy development can be viewed relatively in the same overall development process as second language acquisition: exposure, presentation (teaching), application, practice and assessment.

Technology skills and digital literacy do not develop overnight. Lack of exposure, training and reinforcement of the skills results in a teacher's inability to be proficient in the language of electracy. If ESL teachers do not speak "electracy," they cannot use electracy for teaching and learning.

ESL teachers should learn the language through the same principles as ESL acquisition. Teachers need to gain exposure through training. Schools districts and institutions need to teach the skills to teachers. It should not be assumed that all ESL teachers are versed in electracy. Although there are plenty of teachers who have the skills, there are others who do not.

Heather Lotherington and Jennifer Jenson authors of Teaching Multimodal and Digital Literacy in L2Settings: New Literacies, New Basics, New Pedagogies state that, "Multimodal learning supports collaborative authorship, including the search for, creation and layering of modes that parallel, extend and expand textual production, bringing L2 learners together in pursuit of communicative objectives and supporting contextualized acquisition of coded target language forms."

They provide details to pedagogical projects that utilize different multimodal teaching and learning experiences in ESL. These ideas could act as a basis for creating effective professional development opportunities for ESL teachers to learn electracy skills to use in their classrooms.

Richard Beach and Frank W. Baker in Why Core Standards Must Embrace Digital Literacy say that having electracy proficiency means "having the ability to access and assess online information, share knowledge, connect texts, collaborate with others, build networks, create and remix multimodal texts, and participate in online simulations or games."

The essential learning skills shift from the 3 R's to the 4 C's along with fast adoption of student digital literacy skills such as in Common Core, makes it imperative for ESL teachers to minimally gain basic proficiency in electracy.